To Compete, or Not to Compete: That is the Question

by Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I am a young violinist who has been blessed to have solo opportunities. I was wondering if you think I should also consider competing in more public competitions, such as the Yehudi Menuhin Competition, to further my career goals.

Thank you so much for all you do!     —Eager to Know

Dear Eager to Know:

Your question is an excellent one, and one that doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. I would like to say from the start that this is something you should definitely discuss with your teacher, who knows your playing better than anybody and can give you the most informed opinion.

Competitions come in many shapes and sizes. Whether they might further your career goals depends on what your particular goals are. Every competition provides an opportunity to prepare certain repertoire to a high level and to perform before a jury of established artists and educators, as well as an audience that might contain individuals who some day may be of help to you. What it might offer beyond that depends on the individual competition.

There are many competitions that take place around the world whose winners walk away with a cash prize and perhaps a handful of local engagements, but the news of their accomplishment never radiates beyond that particular area. This could be because the competition doesn’t have a public relations mechanism set up to disseminate the news, or because the prestige of the jury or quality of the prizes is not of sufficient significance to make the results of the competition noteworthy on an international level. Such competitions may nevertheless prove valuable to a soloist or ensemble who wants to have a “competition experience” in order to see how their nerves hold up and to decide whether they want to participate in a more prominent one.

No one should enter a competition seeking greater exposure unless they feel comfortable with the process and motivated by the potential for artistic growth and for gaining valuable performing experience, regardless of the outcome. If that is a description of you, your next step should be to look at the time of the competition vis-à-vis your personal schedule, the required repertoire, the composition and geographical distribution of the jury, and the nature of the prizes. The first two must feel totally comfortable to you. An internationally renowned jury lends a competition greater prestige, which you benefit from if you win a top prize. It is particularly valuable if the top prizes include concert engagements and possibly a recording. Often the Finals afford a welcome opportunity to perform with a first-class orchestra and conductor. The larger competitions make several rounds available to the public on the Internet, thereby providing an excellent opportunity for you to be seen and heard by countless new potential fans.

There is no question that the Yehudi Menuhin Competition is recognized as one of the world’s premier music competitions. If you win a top prize, your public profile will be enhanced by the publicity generated by the competition and you will gain a vehicle for international exposure that you may not have had previously. If you do not win a top prize, there is not likely to be any damage to your career. Everyone knows that a competition performance represents how you played at one moment in time and that such a performance can be influenced by numerous factors.

In my view, competitions are a useful vehicle for getting an artist’s name out to a broader public and a top prize may play a role in helping the artist obtain management. However, that will only be the case if the artist possesses the musical maturity, technical accomplishment, communication skills and individuality that make them compelling, apart from having won the prize. Many such artists have never entered competitions and have built major careers via word of mouth. The wide reach of social media makes it easier today, than ever, to accomplish. Fortunately, the next Menuhin Competition is not until April 2012, so you have some time to sort this out!   

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© Edna Landau 2011

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